Saturday, January 6, 2018

An Unknown Compelling Force


In 1956 a group of nine Russian hikers, mostly college students at Ural Poly-technical Institute, died under mysterious circumstances while camping in winter on the side of Holatchahl Mountain. Their deaths have been commonly referred to the Dyatlov Pass Incident which is derived from the name of the leader of the group Igor Dyatlov.

I had heard about the Dyatlov incident before and even had watched a documentary on it and a movie that was partly based on the story. Most of what you read on the internet about Dyatlov is conspiracy theory and borders on the absurd. When there is an absence of information about an interesting story that void will often be filled with wild conspiracy theories and the Dyatlov story is no different. People have floated theories that aliens killed the hikers, the government was behind it, local tribesman or escaped convicts murdered them or that one of the group members went into a jealous lover's rage and did it. I had always felt that science one way or another would come to solve this mystery and that seems to be so.

The book I chose to read about this was Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story Of The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013) by author Donnie Eichar. Ok, don't let that awful title that reads like a crappy made for television movie on Lifetime dissuade you from this book because it is fairly thorough and interesting. Eichar isn't the greatest writer and the book shakily begins talking too much about himself but it improves as it goes along. So if you can get beyond the narcissism there is a good story here.

The book does a well at explaining how and by whom the investigation was conducted and it also does well at putting the time in which this incident took place into context with the government of Nikita Khrushchev.

This book provides a look into the backgrounds of the hikers and explains at how well prepared they were to take on the challenge of winter hiking in the Ural mountains.  I learned from reading this that I had a few things in common with the leader of the group Igor Dyatlov, we both loved photography, hiking and radio communications. It was nice to learn about the hiking club at the university and the levels of hiking classification it offered to members. I do wish it had gone more into the Mansi people but that might have been too much of a diversion for the book so there is something for me to learn about on my own I suppose.

If you want to cut through the internet conspiracy theories and read a well researched account of what happened at Dyatlov Pass then this is a good book for just that. You will find more information compiled in this book and photos of the group than you can from reading websites about the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

The book does come to its own conclusion as to what happened to the hikers that night on the mountain. The theory he postulates is one that involves meteorology. With help from NOAA scientists in the United States and a friend of the author in Russia they suggest that infrasound and a Karman vortex street as a result of the landscape and weather that night is what compelled the hikers to abandon the safety of their tent and die as a result. The treeless dome shaped mountain with wind blowing over and downsloping over it created twin vortices which resulted in infrasound. That infrasound had negative consequences on the hikers in their tent with a low humming sound that caused confusion, panic, possible physical pain and forced them out of the tent into the cold night. Some died from hypothermia and some died from a combination of falling into a ravine injuring themselves with broken bones and hypothermia.

The theory presented is a believable scenario and one I find as a most credible theory that is based on science to explain the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I would trust proven scientific theory or a conspiracy theory every time.